First Impressions: In East Tennessee, School has Started
By Christy S. Martin, Ed.D.
Amid the fear and the virus, school has begun. The opening of Alcoa, Maryville, and Blount County Schools in East Tennessee preceded many districts in the state and country and will be an example for all to follow. This is just the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year and all stakeholders are anxiously awaiting every day’s events.
COVID-19 safety precautions are in place. Face masks are expected, and schools are following a few at a time alphabet schedule. While in approximately one-third of the district, students have elected for virtual school, the rest of the students will report for one day a week on a staggered last name alphabet schedule for the first week and until further notice.
Much of the day for this week will be spent acclimating young people with this new normal. Social distancing is being attempted and is expected to be successful because of this staggered schedule. Most of the rest of the instruction will have to be online.
At least one day per week, schools will be able to have eyes on the young people that many of us have been most concerned about. Those who are most at risk have been away from the watchful eyes of the school. Reports of child abuse and neglect have declined significantly, yet many fear that we have young people that might be in dangerous situations. Schools also feed kids and while many meals have been served and distributed at schools, many of our youth have been unable to get there to get meals and it is feared some may be hungry. A one day a week opening is critical. Food parcels that can last for days are being distributed to students to take home.
COVID-19 has not just affected the health of those that are virus-exposed, but has stood in the way of schools being the safe place that many children depend on. This virus has revealed the importance of what school does in a community, which is much more than simply a learning environment. It is a child-safe place in so many ways. For those youth, at least a once per week check to get food, and see the smiling friendly face of an adult will thankfully be there once again.
This will be an experimental year and one that will change education and the way we think about schools and their role in society and the community. It will be interesting to see if parental responsibility will change as we move in and out of online instruction. There will be positives from this as well as negatives. Homes will become more online and tech savvy. Reluctant parents and grandparents will learn technology and be involved more in teaching roles as well as learn to use technology with their children to find answers and solve problems together.
Around us, other districts are electing not to start because of a critical uptick in cases. Once a week with fewer kids and watchful safety precautions is giving my local districts an opportunity to begin the year, provide online instruction, check on children, and renew the education spark that career educators have been missing since the March 2020 closure.
The first days have been joyful ones. Educators are excited to see kids and give instruction… mostly this week on how the online days will go. Already, we have seen how critical the personal contact is for both the teacher and the student. While there are depressing aspects to the journey into this new format, it is at the same time an exciting learning experience for all of us as we watch a rapid transformation occur in education. This feeling of renewal brought about by a new school year continues to be exciting.
About the author
Christy Martin recently retired with 30 plus years of experience as an educator in K-12 and higher education and another 6 years in social service for foster youth. She considers advocating for at-risk youth a calling. Since retiring in February, she has returned to her love of writing, currently practicing that craft by writing about child welfare and school issues. She lives in East Tennessee, 15 miles from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
This article was originally published by The Learning Counsel, a research institute and news media hub focused on providing context for the shift in education to digital curriculum.